Chemical Hazards

Chemicals are found everywhere. They purify drinking water, increase crop production, and simplify household chores. But chemicals also can be hazardous to humans or the environment if used or released improperly. Hazards can occur during production, storage, transportation, use, or disposal. You and your community are at risk if a chemical is used unsafely or released in harmful amounts into the environment where you live, work, or play.
Chemical manufacturers are one source of hazardous materials, but there are many others, including service stations, hospitals, and hazardous materials waste sites.
Chemical emergencies can happen on a small scale in your home with household cleaners or on a large scale in your community with industrial chemicals.  Both are just as dangerous to your health and safety.

Household Chemicals

Home is where the heart is—it’s also where the bleach, ammonia and paint thinner lie in wait to cause unintended accidents. In fact, most chemical accidents occur in homes. It’s time to get down and dirty with your cleaners and other potentially poisonous concoctions. Properly dispose of what you don’t need and store what you do in a safe, child-proof location. The good news is, with a little planning and knowledge, most home emergencies can be prevented.

Take Protective Measures

Guidelines for Buying and Storing Hazardous Household Chemicals Safely:

  • Buy only as much of a chemical as you think you will use. Leftover material can be shared with neighbors or donated to a business, charity, or government agency. For example, excess pesticide could be offered to a greenhouse or garden center, and theater groups often need surplus paint. Some communities have organized waste exchanges where household hazardous chemicals and waste can be swapped or given away.
  • Keep products containing hazardous materials in their original containers and never remove the labels unless the container is corroding. Corroding containers should be repackaged and clearly labeled.
  • Never store hazardous products in food containers.
  • Never mix household hazardous chemicals or waste with other products. Incompatibles, such as chlorine bleach and ammonia, may react, ignite, or explode.

To Prevent and Respond to Accidents:

  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructors for the proper use of the household chemical.
  • Never smoke while using household chemicals.
  • Never use hair spray, cleaning solutions, paint products, or pesticides near an open flame (e.g., pilot light, lighted candle, fireplace, wood burning stove, etc.) Although you may not be able to see or smell them, vapor particles in the air could catch fire or explode.
  • Clean up any chemical spill immediately. Use rags to clean up the spill. Wear gloves and eye protection. Allow the fumes in the rags to evaporate outdoors, then dispose of the rags by wrapping them in a newspaper and placing them in a sealed plastic bag in your trash can.
  • Dispose of hazardous materials correctly. Take household hazardous waste to a local collection program. Check with your county or state environmental or solid waste agency to learn if there is a household hazardous waste collection program in your area.

Symptoms of Toxic Poisoning:

  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Irritation of the eyes, skin, throat, or respiratory tract.
  • Changes in skin color.
  • Headache or blurred vision.
  • Dizziness.
  • Clumsiness or lack of coordination.
  • Cramps or diarrhea.

Be Prepared to Seek Medical Assistance:

  • Post the number of the emergency medical services and the poison control center by all telephones. In an emergency situation, you may not have time to look up critical phone numbers.
  • The national poison control number is (800) 222-1222 .

During a Household Chemical Emergency

If there is a Danger of Fire or Explosion:

  • Get out of the residence immediately. Do not waste time collecting items or calling the fire department when you are in danger. Call the fire department from outside (a cellular phone or a neighbor’s phone) once you are safely away from danger.
  • Stay upwind and away from the residence to avoid breathing toxic fumes.

If Someone has been Exposed to a Household Chemical:

  • Find any containers of the substance that are readily available in order to provide requested information. Call emergency medical services.
  • Follow the emergency operator or dispatcher’s first aid instructions carefully. The first aid advice found on containers may be out of date or inappropriate. Do not give anything by mouth unless advised to do so by a medical professional.
  • Discard clothing that may have been contaminated. Some chemicals may not wash out completely.

Industrial Chemicals

The same chemicals that are used to create useful things like window cleaner and exciting things like new flat-screen televisions can, under certain conditions, have a harmful effect on your health. They may even be used as a weapon.  So it’s up to you to be prepared in the event of a leak, spill, explosion or other potential chemical emergency.

Preparing for an Industrial  Chemical Emergency:

  • Make sure your Emergency Supply Kit is ready
  • Identify an internal room where you can shelter-in-place and protect yourself from contaminated air.